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The making of Bonobo’s Migration artwork

Last month, Bonobo released a beautiful video for Break Apart – the second track from his forthcoming album Migration. Directed by photographer Neil Krug, the film was shot in the Mojave Desert in California but has an otherworldly feel: vivid colour treatments, strange plumes of smoke and glowing lights create an eerie landscape reminiscent of the surface of Mars or some other distant planet.

Krug captured footage using a drone while shooting the artwork for Migration. He drove to the desert in the middle of the night to photograph the area just before sunrise, avoiding the sun’s intense heat.

“We were shooting in the dead of summer … by high noon it’s around 120 degrees in that part of the Mojave … so we made the executive decision to shoot as much of it, if not all of it, between four and six in the morning,” says Krug.

“It was maybe one of the most beautiful shoots I’ve ever done in my career,” he continues. “When we arrived, it was pitch black and so tranquil and when we got to the spot where the cover image was taken, the horizon was like a neon blue. There was this very thin blue line glowing and you could hear birds singing in the distance. It was sort of like a soundtrack.”

The cover of Bonobo's sixth album Migration, by Neil Krug
The cover of Bonobo’s sixth album Migration, by Neil Krug

The image on the album’s cover shows a column of fire rising up from the ground beneath a deep blue sky. Other images show dark plumes of smoke hanging in the air and rocks rendered a vivid shade of pink.

Krug – who also shot the cover image for The Horrors’ album Skying and Bat for Lashes’ The Bride – says Bonobo wanted the artwork to feel “beautifully sinister”. In an initial meeting, the pair discussed creating ambiguous images that would hint at a darker narrative without giving too much away. “[Bonobo] wanted it to be colourful and not too literal,” adds Krug.

The desert location was chosen partly for its Martian appearance. Krug admits he was a little disappointed when the location of the shoot was revealed, preferring instead to create images that viewers can’t quite place. “I like to leave things quite vague and ambiguous … I’m always looking for spots that aren’t recognisable,” he adds.

Neil Krug's images of the Mojave desert for Bonobo album Migration Neil Krug's images of the Mojave desert for Bonobo album Migration Neil Krug's images of the Mojave desert for Bonobo album Migration

The idea to shoot in the desert was also inspired inspired by Bonobo (Simon Green)’s connection to the area. He recently moved to Los Angeles and made several trips to the Mojave while making the album, often driving into the desert to listen to tracks during the editing process.

“You can hear things in a new way just from moving environment,” says Green. “The car test is a classic thing. Producers will say, ‘take a drive with the music’. I like to go up to the mountains – there’s lots of really weird and wonderful landscapes around where I live – and just spend time with the music. It’s very inspiring … it can spark an idea that you might not have had if you’d just been sat in an air-conditioned studio.”

Image: Neil Krug
Image: Neil Krug
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Image: Neil Krug

Black plumes of smoke were shot in Krug’s studio in Los Angeles. “It’s almost like a black box – the whole room is black – and it’s incredibly useful for shooting projects like this,” he says. Brightly coloured smoke clouds and flames were created using CGI and add a sense of intrigue to shots of the landscape.

“Once Si and I had sat down and talked, I knew [the artwork] needed to be something other than just landscape images,” explains Krug. “I thought, if this is really going to grab your attention and create a narrative, you need something else in there – but what’s in there can’t be too loud or comment too much on what the music is. It had to stand out in an unusual way. I went back and forth with a few ideas and then it hit me that it should be light and smoke and fire – that these symbols should move through the artwork – and I knew that the cover should be almost like the earth is splitting open and this fire is coming out of the ground.”

Green wrote the album while touring following the release of his 2013 album, The North Borders. “When the last record finished I was living in New York and then touring took me on the road to the point where I wasn’t really living anywhere,” he says. “I continued to live on the road for about a year, which is where the bulk of the record started, with ideas sketched out in airports and hotel rooms.”

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Image: Neil Krug

He has previously described the album as a study of people and places: a reflection on how we are influenced by our surroundings and how migration shapes the identity of a place. The record features field recordings and sounds from various continents as well as collaborations with musicians from Morocco, Australia and the US.

Bonobo has previously collaborated with art director Leif Podhajsky and photographer Pelle Crépin to create covers for his albums. The cover of 2010’s Black Sands was designed by Oscar & Ewan and features an image of Derwentwater in the Lake District taken by Crépin. The abstract cover for follow-up album The North Borders was created by Podhajsky using a polaroid image of a wave.

“There’s a sort of ongoing theme. I’ve always liked this idea of the wilderness and human interactions in very remote places,” explains Green. “It was the same with Black Sands. The conversation I had with the people who designed that was to find these remote outposts of human interaction within vast landscapes … this antenna way out in the middle of the woodland. That’s the same kind of thing I spoke to Neil about … these sort of far outposts in the middle of the wilderness. It was more about that than specifically the desert,” he says.

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Image: Neil Krug

“One of the key things we talked about [with Migration] was to create something with a slightly more sinister tone and to have something a little more suggestive,” Green continues. “There’s definitely a moodiness to Neil’s work and a sense of nostalgia to it as well – not just directly because of the film process [images were shot using digital cameras and 120 film] but there’s a sort of familiarity to it,” he adds. “I’m really happy with it all.”

Krug’s images and video footage will also feature in forthcoming live shows. Bonobo is working with Strangeloop – the Los Angeles-based artist behind the visuals for Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead tour – to create visuals for his Migration tour, which kicks off in London next month.

“There’s going to be quite a strong visual aesthetic. Strangeloop is working on his own content … we’re using some of Neil’s drone footage as well, so it’s going to be consistent with the tone [of the artwork],” explains Green.

Green says it is the first time his album artwork has also featured in live shows. “Previously, we haven’t really been able to do it because we haven’t had the resources or the tech and we haven’t really had that scale of video, so there’s not been a direct way to tie in the artwork with the live show,” he explains.

It’s a beautiful set of images and the video is one of a series of great promos released by Bonobo. The video for Migration track Kerala – an unsettling film starring Gemma Arterton – was one of CR’s top 10 from 2016.

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Image: Neil Krug

Migration is released on Ninja Tune on January 13.

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